Weed and the workplace: What legalization could mean for testing, possession, and use

Waiting for the Green Light

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — With recreational marijuana legalization closer than ever in the State of New York, some are concerned about what that might entail in terms of workplace testing, possession, and use before or during work hours.

“From a legal perspective, this is not going to hit overnight,” says James Grasso, attorney at Phillips Lytle, LLP. He says implementing any new laws once marijuana becomes legal, and fine-tuning them for the worksite, might take a bit.

“Hopefully, the law won’t take effect until they have the regulations in place,” he says.

Grasso says guidance will come eventually, but employers should be thinking about legal pot and their workforce right now. 

Asking things like, “‘what do I do about drug testing, how I might have to change that? What are my work rules going to be?'”

Peter Pelletier of Canaltown Coffee Roasters, says once marijuana is given the thumbs up in Albany, it will be time to sit with his staff. 

“Maybe we’ll have a group meeting and say, ‘hey look, now that this is legal, doesn’t mean you can come into work high as a kite,'” says Pelletier.

Dimitri Vamvakitis of the Liberty Diner is hoping some guidance can come in from the Labor Department on how to handle these situations. 

“How am I going to know that I need to test them? Is someone having allergies that day, are their eyes bloodshot for another reason? It’s really uncharted waters,” says Vamvakitis.

Kim Harding with Nixon Peabody, LLP says work rules for using marijuana will probably be akin to those regarding alcohol. 

“Just like if someone showed up drunk to work, we could take action that basis, (they could) do the same here,” says Harding.

When it comes to testing for pot, though, that’s going to be a difference. “We would eliminate cannabis from our pre-employment drug screens,” says Harding.

While alcohol can move through someone’s system relatively quickly, marijuana can linger for up to 30 days. “If we had a real-time ‘breathalyzer’ analog for marijuana, that would be a different story,” Harding says.

When it comes to having pot at work, that’s likely going to be up to the employer, and what is or is not legal. “Possession can still be prohibited on the worksite,” she says.

Harding did say there are a lot of moving parts to this marijuana bill, but she thinks that from a workforce standpoint, rules could be enforced pretty quickly.

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